Magazine article Variety

Small-Town Life Gets an 'Olive' Branch

Magazine article Variety

Small-Town Life Gets an 'Olive' Branch

Article excerpt

Small-Town Life Gets an 'Olive' Branch

Olive Kitteridge

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Starring: Frances McDormand,Richard Jenkins

Frances McDormand delivers a remarkably complex portrayal of the unforgettable, irascible title character in "Olive Kitteridge," over the course of the four-hour HBO miniseries she optioned and developed herself, bringing aboard her "Laurel Canyon" helmer, Lisa Cholodenko, to direct. Even more so than 20lTs "Mildred Pierce," this finely crafted, wonderfully cast melier - which the câbler will air in November - suggests a promising new life for the women's-picture genre on nets willing to let such stories breathe.

Elizabeth Strout wrote "Olive Kitteridge" as a collection of 13 short stories - a portrait of small-town Crosby, Maine, with its minor crises and major hypocrisies, interlinked by the presence (sometimes peripheral) of Olive. Such a format makes it all but impossible to reduce the Pulitzer-winning book's nonlinear quarter-century span to an efficient two-hour narrative. Besides, the feature format is better suited to heroes with clearly defined goals and a fixed timeframe in which to achieve them, whereas "Olive Kitteridge" has more existential concerns. That may lead to viewer attrition, as auds tune in for the first hour, but may not be necessarily hooked to the end, though each successive episode takes those who remain deeper into the family's world.

In the book's best chapter, which screenwriter Jane Anderson ("The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio") tucks into the second installment, Kevin Coulson (Cory Michael Smith) returns to Crosby, with a shotgun. It has been some years since his mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) killed herself, and now he plans to take his own life, working out the logistics in his head when Olive taps on his car window and invites herself in to sit down beside him.

Thematically speaking, shotguns and fathers' suicides loom heavy over much of the miniseries, which tends to view its "Our Town"-like cross-section of Crosby residents in generational terms, where children are constantly dealing with their parents' baggage, and where middle-school teachers appear to have relatively little impact on the lives of their students. But in this scene, Olive manages to get through to Kevin. Depression may or may not run in Olive's family. She certainly seems to have passed it on to her son, Christopher ("The Newsroom's" John Gallagher Jr. …

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